Most people can use Word right out of the box, which has its pros and cons. The pros are obvious, but Word has some complex features and tools that can quickly land a user in hot water. The following tips will help your users avoid troublesome issues and adapt to the environment quickly.
1: Don't be afraid to call support
Encourage users to learn new features on their own -- experiment and learn! But also encourage them not to waste time trying to work through a problem or new feature on their own if they're really lost. Many Word users are reluctant to call support (I'm not sure why); encourage them to call support before they've wasted half their workday.
2: Use styles
Users who don't understand styles hate them and refuse to use them. That complicates their work and consequently, your work. Styles should definitely be on your training list -- not just an introduction to styles, but a heavy-duty, serious training session. Supply a tutorial for applying styles. Then, using examples from their workday, show them how styles will make them more efficient and solve recurring formatting problems. You can't rely on users to wade through styles on their own. They just won't.
3: Don't alter the template
Chances are, you've distributed a few templates to your users. There may be several floating around your organization. As needs change, templates need revising -- and users might think they're up to the task. They might be; they might not. Ask users to call you when they need changes, and keep your fingers crossed. You have copies for those users who strike out on their own, right?
4: Rely on [Ctrl]+Z
Probably the most important thing you can teach users is how to undo actions using [Ctrl]+Z. It's Word's only real panacea. You might be surprised to learn how many of your users are unaware of it. Knowing they can quickly undo a change encourages them to experiment and apply new features.
5: Keep it simple
Some organizations have conventions to guide users on formats, styles, and so on. If your organization doesn't, don't just turn users loose! Advise them to keep formatting and special options to a minimum. The document needs to do its job and no more. Just because there are no formal limitations isn't an excuse for needless formatting.
6: Use line and page breaks sparingly
Nothing can foul a document faster than hard line and page breaks. They're also difficult to troubleshoot. Train users to let Word handle line wrapping and page breaks. Show them how to use styles, how to add space before and after a paragraph, and how to attach a page break to a paragraph. These options are preferable to hard line and page breaks.
7: Know the difference between character and paragraph formatting
Word's formatting layers often confuse users. They need to understand the difference between character and paragraph formats. Explaining the differences will clear up a lot of their confusion and help them make better choices.
8: Take advantage of keyboard shortcuts
Word has dozens of keyboard shortcuts that some users will love and others will ignore. It's up to you to supply a list. They can decide whether they want to use it.
9: Don't expect Word to do everything
Word can't do everything. But without the right expectations, users will waste time trying to accomplish tasks that are better suited for other products. For instance, suggest Publisher for flyers, brochures, and other desktop publishing documents. In addition, LaTeX is definitely better than Word at logical markup. Let users know there are alternatives to Word by introducing them to other text-based applications.
10: Know how to turn off auto-formatting
By default, Word assumes a lot of formatting tasks. Most of the time, this arrangement helps users. Occasionally, it gets in the way. For instance, a user might want to manually number a list or begin a new line with the - character (without indenting the line). Word makes dozens of these assumptions and users need to know they can run interference by disabling specific AutoFormat and AutoCorrect options. Also, remind them that they'll need to turn these options back when they complete their special task.
More help for your Word users
- 10 annoying Word features (and how to turn them off)
- 10+ keyboard shortcuts for entering special characters in a Word document
- 10+ lesser-known shortcuts for formatting Word text
- The 10 most useful Word shortcuts
- Five Word tips that could change your life
- Five tips for lightning-fast formatting in Word
What issues do your Word users commonly encounter -- and how do you prevent or resolve the problems? Are your users pretty self-reliant or do they come to you for a lot of troubleshooting and guidance?
Susan Sales Harkins is an IT consultant, specializing in desktop solutions. Previously, she was editor in chief for The Cobb Group, the world's largest publisher of technical journals.